Theodore Edwin Dardanson remembered his first battle. It was dark. He couldn’t see much, but he could hear it breathing. He’d been afraid. There was no knowing what it was or where it came from. He remembered mostly the heat and stink of its breath and the dim, yellow eyes against the darkness. He’d swung his blade at phantoms. Never knowing if his blows landed or if the demon simply laughed at his meager efforts. Yet somehow, they’d made it through and Lady Elizabeth emerged unharmed.
The second encounter proved difficult. He was more experienced but fear still seeped into his muscles. His sword shook less noticeably. The demon never moved but laughed audibly before fading into the darkness it was born of.
Years passed and his confidence grew. He’d been victorious through many small battles, and the demon had not returned. Then, in the summer months of the fourth year, it returned. Again, it came at night. Moonlight shone upon the green field, but it was not enough to reveal the creature’s true form. The yellow eyes followed his movements as he approached. Dardanson felt no fear and charged forward, sword drawn. He swung with the strength gained from relentless fighting. His sword came down upon the beast, but the shapeless dark shrouding the yellow eyes vanished like smoke on a winter night. Before him was nothing. An empty field. The deep laughter of the demon thundered around him and eventually focused behind him. His foolish charge had left Lady Elizabeth unprotected. The darkness gathered near her. The beast’s form still hidden within a dense cloud of black. The laughter came from it once more, then the black cloud enveloped Elizabeth. Slowly, it grew smaller until he could see Elizabeth again. The darkness was penetrating her skin. Entering her body through her ears and eyes. Her skin grew pale. She began to shiver. Her eyes opened and were white. Empty of any color or sight. Then she screamed.
She screamed for ten days. Whatever the beast was, whatever it wanted, it was torturing her mind. Dardanson watched. He was helpless. At the end of the tenth day, the cloud dispersed and she was once again Lady Elizabeth. Dardanson swore from that day on never to leave her side. Never to expose her to the dangers lurking in the dark.
More years passed, but he wasn’t the one to decide their fate. Elizabeth had chosen to leave. She chose to go somewhere he was not able to follow despite his sworn duty to protect her. An unraveling ensued. He could only protect her when she would return to his charge. Even then, she would often return to him as a stranger. She paid him no mind, but he kept his resolve. He could only protect her when she was with him, but he fought for her with all that he was. He kept her safe when she was with him. It was all he could do.
Years passed. Then one day she had come back from traveling. During this time, the demon returned. The black haze had dissipated some to reveal the outline of a man. The yellow eyes and deep laugh remained unchanged.
“You cannot keep her from me,” the darkness said.
Dardanson drew his sword as his answer.
“I am only able to appear because of her,” the demon said, “only when she thinks of me, you know. And she’s been thinking of me quite often these past few years.”
He resisted the urge to charge. To lunge at the figure and banish it from existence. He remembered the harsh lesson.
“You haven’t been around lately.”
Dardanson took a step but held his ground. He adjusted his grip on the blade.
“It’s a shame. She could really use you. She’s often all alone these days. It almost takes the fun out of it. How she leaves the door open for me. I even feel welcomed at times.”
Dardanson charged, blade level, and pierced the man-demon through the chest. It never moved. This close, the yellow eyes were like faint stars in the night sky while the body was made of the darkness between stars. True night.
Then, like dust, the darkness fell to the ground and disappeared.
“You cannot kill me,” the deep voice rang in the empty air, “You can only resist me. I will always be with her. Even when you aren’t.”
More time passed. How long he did not know. Lady Elizabeth rarely returned now, but he stood ever-ready. For seventeen years he’d fought to keep her safe. Now he did not know if she was alive.
Then, one day, he was given a new charge. A young lady who resembled his Elizabeth. If he’d not known better, he would have thought it was indeed the Lady Elizabeth as she once was.
Night fell. He, Theodore Edwin Dardanson, readied himself to fight again. He would fight every demon who dared find her. He’d fight every night to protect her. He would not falter. He would not fail.